Fall, With Style

Saturday mornings. Don’t you just love ‘em? (Unless you work weekends, maybe.)

Saturdays were full of cartoons & cereals, sweets & comics, when I was a kid.

I still love Saturday mornings. Although having a toddler means I’m out of bed just as early as on Monday to Friday and weekend family life is pretty busy, my time isn’t as structured as during the working week. The day is less determined and life feels a little more like the adventure it’s meant to be.

Some Saturday mornings, to give my wife Janine a bit of a break, I take Hannah, our nearly-two-year-old, to the swings down the road. This little play area is nestled in some wildlife-rich woodland, shaded by magnificent oaks, and I enjoy time with Hannah as well as the squirrels and birds, often early enough to pre-empt the noisy rush of other young families.

Oak trees, Alexandra Park, Hastings

Oak trees, Alexandra Park, Hastings

In recent weeks those mighty oaks have been firing tons of ammunition with fury down at innocent civilians in the play area. At least, the speed at which these acorns come down makes it feels like they’re being fired. Peow! Peow! Duck!

They’ve been falling, of course, not being fired. But falling fast.

Falling with style – like Buzz Lightyear.

Autumn’s my favourite season. Well, one of my top 4, anyway.

Definitely my favourite season when it comes to running. Tearing along leaf-carpeted trails through rainbow-coloured woodlands in just-right, cooler temperatures.

Autumn – nature’s firework display. Fall, with style. A kind prelude to unforgiving winter.

Being pelted by acorns, I found myself gazing up for the first time, admiringly, at these wise old oaks, with their hench trunks, twisty-turny, tangled branches and rugged bark.

There’s nothing ordered about these trees.

How on earth did their branches first of all end up spreading out from the trunk at such random intervals, and then grow outward in so many haphazard directions?

There may be a scientific answer to the ‘how?’. But the aesthetic effect is one of awesome, majestic magnificence.

Beauty for the beholder.

Dignity in disorder.

If I were God or Nature, I’d have probably arranged the branches at neat, evenly spaced intervals, growing in boring, straight lines, and there’d be no beauty to behold.

My kids think I have OCD. That’s a term that’s banded about far too lightly these days. I’ve seen the torment experienced by people who suffer genuine Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I don’t have that distressing condition. But I am the type of person who can’t stand mess – clutter is even worse! – and if it were down to me, I’d keep all our CDs, DVDs and books in alphabetical order.

Life

on the other hand

isn’t like that.

Like the mighty oaks, Life takes unexpected twists and turns.

It’s full of intrigue…

…and MESS!

It has a habit of taking us by surprise.

We often don’t understand the hows and the whys of life. Maybe we would choose for things to be different, if we could.

For life to be neater, simpler, easier, tidier.

Sometimes you might feel like screaming. Or crying. Or shouting, “Why?!”

Sometimes, even when we know the answers, we still need to express that cry of anguish. That cry of frustration, confusion, despair or distress from the soul.

Even Jesus, knowing

exactly

positively

definitely

why he was on the cross

and why his Father had left him alone,

had to cry out, “My God, WHY…?!”

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

And yet it had to be like this.

Not for his sins, but for ours.

For our healing and wholeness.

For the veil between us and God to be ripped apart.

There was a bigger picture, which he knew.

But it’s hard to see it when you’re peering through a mist of blood, sweat and tears, and all you can do is let out that cry of anguish from the soul.

Jesus was tangled up by the biggest twist in the tale. But like the oaks, he rose magnificently out of it all.

God never promises that life will be easy – even when you decide to follow him. Perhaps especially when you decide to follow him. I recently came across a brilliant blog: Confronting the lie (that God won’t give you more than you can handle) by a pastor called Nate Pyle, on his experience of going through an excruciatingly difficult time: well worth a read.

Twists and turns.

But these lives – lives of those who have been through seemingly random twists and turns, tragedy and apparent failure, even – often adopt the strength and splendour of those rugged oaks. And could not have come to that place of dignity and beauty without those unfathomable experiences.

I know I’ve partly said this before (apologies), but when Christian teaching is all neat and tidy, we do the Bible, God and Life a gross disservice. And perhaps most of all, we do a disservice to all those people whose lives have been tangled and messy.

The Bible, like Life, is full of intrigue and surprise, not ordered and predictable like I’d like my CDs to be….or how some Christians would like their Bibles to be.

Imagine if Christians started making stark, sterile statements like:

“Only Christians are saved, and everyone else will go to hell.”

Or:

“Being gay is just plain wrong.”

Or:

“Your suffering is your own fault – God is judging you for your sins.”

Or:

“You can only interpret this or that part of the Bible the same way as me. Any other way is false.”

Imagine if anyone made such a harsh, black-and-white statement as any of the above!

Thankfully, most Christians I know stand in awe and love of Jesus, and don’t pretend to have all the answers to life’s questions. They know that all they need is in Jesus, who does have the answers.

Thankfully, the Bible, with its messy theology, surprising stories and sometimes-only-three-quarters-answered questions doesn’t do bumper-sticker philosophy. On behalf of God, it respects the dignity of people whose lives have been confused, confusing, challenging, incomprehensible even.

What the Bible does more than anything else…its speciality…its central purpose…is to show us what Jesus is like, to point us to him. So that in spite of our twisty-tangly lives, we can find some order, some sense, through being in the one who is not disordered, who knows the end from the beginning, who is never taken by surprise.

Not that the Bible is incomprehensible, but like the mighty oaks, it leaves us in awe and wonder, with a profound sense of something – Someone – bigger than ourselves. Like life, Someone bigger than we can get our heads around.

In My Life’s Soundtrack I described some of my life experiences, which took some interesting twists and turns in the distant past. In more recent years the arrival of our wonderful daughter, Hannah, in 2011 (see Let’s Face the Music) has been the biggest (and best!) twist. I’m very fortunate that for many, many years I haven’t had personally to face any tragedies or major difficulties.

Recently, though, we changed church. Not a massive change of direction; not a particularly painful twist; but a difficult decision, nonetheless. One not taken lightly, especially as it meant giving up a homegroup, made up of good friends. But the right decision for us as a family, made amicably, in consultation with friends and leaders in both churches, and I’m excited about the new start.

Sometimes a change of direction is part and parcel of the bigger plan for growth, for fruitfulness, for Life. There is a bigger picture. Our lives as a family, the lives of our wider church in Hastings and further afield, will become like those mighty ‘oaks of righteousness’, described in Isaiah 61, bursting with life-giving seed, as we allow God to bend and shape us through the pain and the change.

Remember – according to Isaiah*, it’s the ones who have gone through the twists and turns of being broken-hearted, enslaved, bereaved, deprived, rejected, who become those magnificent, fruitful ‘oaks’.

Watch out, now, for those flying acorns!

*Isaiah 61:1-3

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8 thoughts on “Fall, With Style

  1. Tricia says:

    hey ,.. I know many Christians who make such remarks as ”you are going to hell”, or ”being gay is just plain wrong ” etc , etc , ….
    And yes… I love your blogs , and value your opinions , but some of what you say does rattle my cage !!! .. you did ask for comments !! 😉

  2. Thanks Tricia. The ‘Imagine if…’ statements were intended to be ironic, because of course those kinds of statements are made by Christians. Sorry if that wasn’t obvious! At the same time, as I indicated, my own personal experience these days is of far greater compassion and understanding amongst fellow believers. Maybe it’s who I choose to hang around with.

    But I’m sorry to hear you’re still encountering such black-and-white remarks. Thanks for commenting, and blessings 2 u.
    We must DEFINITELY have that coffee if/when you’re back in Brighton 🙂

  3. Tricia says:

    Oh I am so thick !!! I am glad that you were being ironic!
    The fundamental evangelical branch of church ..New frontiers, definitely preaches this stuff , I see and hear it (although I choose not to hang out with these people now too , as it is not good for my blood pressure !!)
    I still cannot go with the Christian teaching any more , but do believe that there are compassionate and good people both in and out of the church … you certainly seem to show practical care for those in need….
    I am not sure where I will end up , but coffee sometime would be good … just don’t ask me to go to church !!
    Love to all the family ,

  4. Sounds good to me. Don’t worry, I have no intention of dragging you back to church! God’s heart is so much bigger than that. But would love to have a natter with you. I think we’d agree about a lot of things and hopefully learn from each other, too. Blessings.

  5. Shelley says:

    I cannot “spot the difference”. But am working from memory only. Help me out, where are the changes ?

    • It was only actually one small change, Shelley – a comma after ‘Fall’ in the title and in the same phrase in the text, to make the play on words a bit clearer and, I think, so it reads better. Glad the ‘spot the difference’ tactic made at least one person re-read it – I’ll have to try that ploy again!

  6. Julian searle says:

    I like these blogs. Much resonates with me and the comments by others, I like that others struggle/question similar things, it feels a lot less lonely that way – there’s, dare I say a humanist touch in this I like! Humanist – more forbidden territory….atleast at Kings, God bless them!

    It does seem to me that arguing infallibility of the bible is a problem. To me it doesn’t matter, god can handle fallibility, it doesn’t phase him why should it us?
    As you have said black and white thinking doesnt fit the way things are and the same is true of theology; when this must be neatly tied up you have big problems. Dont get me wrong there are fixed laws. The trees you describe grow according to tropic responses so they can source light, moisture and sustinance. Their seemingly random habit is both beautifully orchestrated and wholly individual. there is no conflict in this. It seems our lifes too respond to fixed laws – those laws given to us for our very good. Being thinking beings we can try to disobey them but they wont be disobeyed, thank goodness they cant. They reflect the very nature of god and protect us at all times. We are of course fallible, in fact we cannot ‘be’ right nor should we think we should have to be….i dont profess to understand genesis and the fall nor sometimes sin but in the end christ is our infallibility covering our lives with grace and love. Just like kindness they cover a multitude of sins. Grace is nothing we can do; it is recieved though we can share in it when we extend it to others and forgive.

    That brings me onto OCD. I too struggle with this. It seems such folks struggle with safety and security and perform many rituals to assuage this. I find it ironic that whilst christians ought to show no such tendency having fixed doctrines can send it into overdrive with such thoughts…..

    If I don’t believe the bible in this am I right now sinning (doubt is infact a prerequisite of faith)

    Do I ‘like’ entertaining wrong theology for my own selfish ends (demonising talk)

    Am I at this moment outside of the grace of god (a misunderstanding of grace)

    Have I offended the Holy Spirit that he will withdraw I know he’s like a gentle dove (in fact he’s like the best friend ever – capable of tough love and also able to stick by me through thick and thin)

    In this moment of feeling better about myself Am i in denial (infact he bids us feel well of ourselves)

    Have I committed the unforgivable sin (can we really undo the miracle of the cross)

    Was I ever a Christian in the first place (he is sovereign)

    The list goes on – no wonder they call it the disease of scrupulosity and doubt!!!

    What a tragedy that when asked whether she wanted to come to church the prostitute replied ‘no, I already felt bad about myself….’
    I completely understand her sentiments and likewise believe the church is better than that

    In my better moments I put aside my angst and simply remind myself of the law of love and thank god for Jesus – while we were yet sinners he died for us.
    He came at this time to heal our dis-eases

    Wishing You all compliments of the season – Peace and Joy in abundance

    • Wow, Julian, there’s so much there. Loads of depth and beauty in that. It actually brought tears to my eyes. Really good to hear some of your thoughts. Thank you for sharing those. Looking forward to catching up with you again soon.

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